A Good Life in a World of Distraction and Anxiety: A conversation in eight parts


Part I: Of Stuff and Persons                   Part II: A Free Prisoner
Part III: A Life without Distractions      Part IV: On being Authentic
Part V: On Crisis and Friendship           Part VI: A Good Person or a Good Life?
Part VII: The Meaningness of Meaningness?

Part VIII: A leap of faith

The secular project of ethics is forever doomed to fail in finding a foundation for its logical aspirations. Soren Kirkegaard, the danish existentialist, once noticed that reason can only take us so far, in the end we always need to take a leap of faith (his was a leap of faith in God). I guess Gödel later proved something similar with his theorem…

To be Klingon is to be wounded

tMe: “You know what this tells me? About you?”
Ntme: “What does what tell you about me?”
tMe: “Your unwillingness to call Meaningness a goal to strive for, a goal with compromises, and your need to highlight how special this goal-less uncompromising goal is by inventing new terms.”
She sighed.
Ntme: “No, what does it tell you about me?”
tMe: “It tells me that you haven’t really investigated your prejudice of Meaningess. You value transformations higher than anything else. Why? And I think that’s where your unwillingness to call transformations an aspiration comes from. Somehow you believe that this attitude is above other cultural aspirations, and therefore cannot itself be a cultural aspiration. That makes it some sort of totalitarian authoritarian truth. What’s to say that transformative engagements are good, and that the freedom you find in the prison of your comfort zones is bad?”
Ntme: “Because it is in periods of transformation which we feel most alive, it is these periods which feel the most meaningful, even when they are painful. And it is these moments that stay with us and form us.” She was rambling.
tMe: “How’s that then better than the feeling of happiness you gain from being distracted by entertainment?”
Notme had something slightly stressed in her demeanor, and started to repeat herself about the virtue of treating people as persons and not things. So I interrupted her again:
tMe: “But how do you know that it’s good?”
Ntme: “What do you mean, of course it’s good!”
tMe: “I mean, it sounds good, certainly, that if everyone treated each other as persons the world would be great. But how do you know that it’s a good thing? I know that many people would disagree, that we should follow what is a natural order of things. Can’t it also be a good thing to recognise what’s available for you in society and adapt your expectations and aspirations to that, in order to find happiness where you can? To find solace in your destiny? This also would make the culture and society more stable and predictable, and that could cause less insecurity…”
Ntme: “This predictability would merely hide the insecurity by not challenging it, but such a culture would have more not less insecurity.”
tMe: “Maybe, but my point is, how do you know that that is a bad thing? Most people would conform without pain or hassle, and only a few would be outcasts. This idea that all humans are equal is fairly new, right? For example, Aristotle thought that free men were able to philosophise while slaves and women weren’t, so if you were born a woman or a slave, you should be able to find your happiness within that, be stoic, adopt your expectations to what’s possible in the situations, and find respite in that. I’m not saying that’s what I believe, but how do we know it’s wrong?”
Ntme: “We know because reason tells us it is so.”
David Hume: “We speak not strictly and philosophically when we talk of the combat of passion and of reason. Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” 1Nick Cave nodded as he finished his coffee, Cato the younger slowly shook his head as he muttered something which sounded as “That’s what Plato said”.
tMe: “Yes, indeed. Reason is nothing on its own.”
Ntme: “How do we know bigotry is wrong? Because it is. I guess it’s a leap of faith, based on our ideology and sense of fairness?”
tMe: “Exactly: our ideology! Reason is a slave to passion. You always have a background metaphysics, or ideology that reason can function within. So, only within that framework will you be able to investigate your other passions, your insecurities. Let’s investigate this faith, as you put it, where does it come from? What is the underlying ideology of ‘Meaningness’? How has our imagination of what constitutes a Good Life evolved, from ancient times until modern times and today? How does Meaningness fit in with other secular ideas of a Good Life​? How have the underlying assumptions of the Good Life and whom it is for, changed?”
Notme: “That is an excellent idea, Me.” She turns to look right at you (yes, you).
Notme (looking you in the eyes): “And this is an excellent segue into this next part here at Thinking of Things. This season is about how these notions of Meaningness and the Good Life fit into the social context we find ourselves in today. It is about modernity, the historical period which began with the renaissance and scientific revolution of the 17th century, and via Enlightenment and industrial revolution brought today’s world into being.
Me: (also facing you): “It will delve into the projects that make up Modernity: Capitalism, Humanism, Science, Engineering, and the Nation State.”
Notme: “This season will be about the history of ideas which has led to these notions of Meaningness, and an investigation of the ideology and tradition of which we partake.”
Me: “We don’t yet know where this investigation will take us, we have only worked out a few steps on the way, so your participation, dear reader, in the journey will not only be highly appreciated, but also absolutely necessary, for this season we will attempt to sincerely engage in Sincere Engagement itself.”
Notme: “I hope you will enjoy the season, which will begin shortly with a brief discussion on Aristotle and the scientific revolution, which in some ways brought about the modernity on which our ideas of the Good Life resides.”
Notme, the two business women, David Hume, the impeccable tardy overcharging clumsy foul-mouthed waiter, Nick Cave, Cato, Sean-Paul Sartre and Me (all facing you): “Join us for Season Two of Thinking of Things!!”
All: Laughing.

To be Human is to be wounded.

But my laughter was veiling the throbbing toe pain. We were laughing in in this temple of excess, dedicated to stuff and distraction, in this church of eternal adolescence, this shopping mall, where two friends had converged to find their personhood in each other. Stuff and persons, persons and stuff. What is it that separates persons from stuff, from things? How does one separate oneself from stuff? How do one find the courage to overcome one’s animal nature, one’s nature and nurture, and embrace a human nature in a world without challenge and with infinite privilege? To live a good life, what does it take? The two friends Me and Notme are trying to figure this out together. Maybe they have even succeeded? But a question is not valued by its answer, but what new questions the attempt of an answer may give rise to. How does one find a secular basis for the Good Life in a modern world? Enlightenment philosophy tried to address this, and failed in such a spectacular manner that all subsequent (continental) philosophy has been dedicated to study the nature of this failure. For next time, we will study this history to see what new questions may be asked, which may lead the path towards yet other things to ask, and so on, and so forth… 

 TT, Thinking of Things, 2017

Image credits: All images from Wikimedia Commons except: Business Clipart, Free Clipart, Business People Laughing, Free Stockphoto via http://skyvector.biz/vector-free/laughing, Wedding free from Pixabay.